Listening With My Feet: Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue

Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue made its debut in Vancouver on May 25th, 2017 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. I wrote sixteen pages of notes during the opening night performance. My notes are messy, with inconsistent spacing, overwriting, and oddly large gaps between lines. My notes look this way because I could not tear my eyes away from the performance, for fear of missing something. The performance was overwhelming, the sheer level of activity onstage was difficult to apprehend.
I sit in my seat and gaze out at the performance space. The air is slightly sweet and reminiscent of the smell after rain – I assume it is related to the smoky haze that hangs in the air, presumably the result of a recently run atmosphere machine. The performance space is black, with six black chairs lurking upstage in the shadows. Set amongst the chairs are five spotlights. I focus on these because they are difficult to assign a name to – they are at once obvious as spotlights and yet also strongly reminiscent of old fashioned dryer helmets. Six dancers, Ralph Escamillan, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate, and Alex Tam, enter the stage, dressed in black.
The piece was 75 minutes in length and so rich with movement and action that I cannot begin to articulate, differentiate, or even transcribe it all. I will describe one moment in this tapestry of movement that moved me. The music pulses with a beat that reminds me of rave parties and dance clubs – the pounding bass driving the body to movement. The lights become more lively, I remember green and purple, flashing. The dancers seem most free during this segment. I can almost believe they are improvising, swaying, stomping, jumping, flapping. Their arms and legs and hands and feet are in control yet move with abandon. I notice one dancer’s eyes sweep the audience and stop, move on and then return. I wonder if he is meeting the eyes of someone he has danced with like this, in a place no less filled with people but far more filled with movement. I am struck by how greatly my own body wishes to move and I briefly consider what would happen if I stood and gave myself over to the beat. That pounding beat is loud in my ears and loud in my chest and loud in my feet.
I remember that music later in the performance when there is no music at all. I am struck by how magical and mundane the quiet feet of dancers are, how they slash through the air but land without almost no sound. For the most part, music disguises that throughout the performance and only in the quiet moments do I find myself appreciating the work in that quiet landing. I wonder about the sound my body produced, when I jumped and swung and flapped and spun to a throbbing beat.
I have been a dancer focused on the noise made by my feet. For sixteen years the shoes I wore while dancing dictated how my feet met the floor. In my soft shoes I landed with a whisper and with my hard shoes I landed with a crack. I think I was so taken by the dance club segment because it was only in my own similar moments of dance could I forget the sound I was supposed to make and instead enjoy how the sound made me feel.

Andrea Leveille

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